Tobacco association takes legal route to get cigarettes available in lockdown

By KGAUGELO MASWENENG

Government is facing the threat of another court case over lockdown laws.

The Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) said on Friday it was pursuing a legal remedy to have the ban on the sale of cigarettes lifted.

The organisation said it had received a lot of queries, submissions and messages of support, with many seeking to establish what their next steps are going to be in relation to the ban.

The organisation’s chairperson, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, said in a statement that they had been consulting with their legal teams over the last few days and “have come to the decision to approach the courts for the appropriate relief vis-à-vis the ban on the sale of cigarettes”.

“The uncertainty around the current restrictions and whether or not the lockdown period would be extended beyond the current end date left us with little choice but to take such a drastic step. We tried long and hard to engage with government on this issue but our pleas rather unfortunately fell on deaf ears,” Mnguni said.

He said their request was that government allowed — at the least — the distribution and sale of cigarettes at retail stores, spaza shops and filling stations, where citizens are currently permitted to purchase what has been classified as essential goods.

“This would give the economy a much-needed boost and avoid a situation where our citizens, out of desperation, contravene the regulations of the lockdown en masse,” Mnguni’s statement read.

He said the “simple truth” was that the current regulations would hurt the industry and “cannot be endured for much longer by the various role players along the tobacco industry value chain without severe consequences for all”.

Mnguni said South Africans were resorting to acts of criminality to procure cigarettes.

“We are also seeing the illicit trade flourish whilst the legitimate tobacco industry is prevented from participating.

“The long and short of this all is that the regulations have not stopped people from buying cigarettes during the lockdown period. People are sourcing cigarettes and other goods from underground markets to the detriment of the fiscus,” he said.

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